jury instructions

Quick Note: Appeal of Jury Instructions with Wrong Burden of Proof

Posted by David Adelstein on January 24, 2018
Appeal, Burden of Proof / Comments Off on Quick Note: Appeal of Jury Instructions with Wrong Burden of Proof

I recently talked about the burden of proof when it comes to an all-risk property insurance policy.  This article is important for insureds that have a property insurance claim and are dealing with certain insurance coverage issues with their property insurer. The case at-issue discussed in the article dealt with an appeal of the jury instructions that were read to the jury.  Specifically, the issue was whether the trial court applied the right burden of proof in the jury instructions.  This issue is reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.  See Jones v. Federated National Ins. Co., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D164a (Fla. 4th DCA 2018) citing Daniels v. State, 121 So.3d 409, 413 (Fla. 2013).  

The appellate court found the the trial court’s jury instructions were erroneous meaning the case was remanded back to the trial court for a new trial (with correct jury instructions regarding the burden of proof).

It is important to note that at the charging conference between counsel and the judge to discuss the jury instructions that will be read to the jury, the insured’s lawyer objected to the jury instructions that the judge was going to read to the jury.  This charging conference is important and, as the insured’s lawyer did in this case, it is crucial to object to any jury instruction that is incorrect and/or applies the wrong burden of proof. 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Incorrect / Misleading Jury Instructions and Reversible Error

Posted by David Adelstein on February 27, 2016
Jury Instructions / Comments Off on Incorrect / Misleading Jury Instructions and Reversible Error

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I have discussed the importance of jury instructions. Time should be taken crafting applicable jury instructions based on the law to discuss during the charging conference where the judge determines the jury instructions to read to the jury. What happens if a court reads a misleading and incorrect jury instruction? Final judgment may be reversed and a new trial ordered–reversible error!

In a first-party property insurance coverage dispute, the court read a jury instruction relating to the insured and insurer’s burden of proof. The jury instruction, however, was confusing and contained an incorrect burden of proof for the insurer. As a result, the jury found in favor of the insured and a final judgment was rendered. The Second District reversed the final judgment because the burden of proof jury instruction was misleading and incorrect potentially leading the jury to reach a conclusion it might not have reached had the jury instruction not been misleading and incorrect. Citizens Property insurance Corp. v. Salkey, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D509a (Fla. 2d DCA 2016); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Vanater, 297 So.2d 293 (Fla. 2000) (explaining that an erroneous jury instruction concerning the burden of proof is reversible error because it could lead the jury to reach a conclusion it might not have reached had the jury instruction been correct).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Preparing Jury Instructions and the Standard of Review in Appealing Jury Instructions

Posted by David Adelstein on December 30, 2014
Jury Instructions, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Preparing Jury Instructions and the Standard of Review in Appealing Jury Instructions

Jury Instructions

Jury instructions are a vital component of any jury trial. These are the instructions that the trial judge reads to a jury explaining the elements of the plaintiff’s causes of action against the defendant, the defendant’s defenses, the required burden of proof, how to weigh the evidence, etc. There are jury instructions that are considered Florida standard jury instructions. But, outside of these standard jury instructions, there is a great deal of discretion in preparing and presenting jury instructions in civil trials as long as the instructions accurately reflect the law and are not misleading to the jury.

Typically, each party prepares their own jury instructions (that are not standard jury instructions). The parties then try to agree on a uniform set of instructions to present to the trial judge. It is common for parties to disagree on these jury instructions as each party prefers jury instructions that best suits their case. The judge then holds what is known as a charging conference / jury instruction conference with the parties to determine those applicable jury instructions that the trial judge will read to the jury. However, when the parties disagree as to the jury instructions to be read to the jury, this serves as the basis of an appeal at the conclusion of the trial. It is important, however, for a party to raise an objection during the charging conference / jury instruction conference to a jury instruction that the party may later need to appeal. See High, Clarke & Feneis, Inc. v. Public Service Mut. Ins., 238 So.2d 169 (Fla. 3d DCA 1970) (affirming judgment because party failed to preserve objection to jury instruction by failing to raise objection at charging conference). It is also important for parties to ensure there is a court reporter at the jury instruction conference so that any objection is properly preserved and made part of the record for the appeal. See Wright v. Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Miami, 256 So.2d 56 (Fla. 4th DCA 1971) (affirming judgment because the record failed to disclose any objection made to the jury instructions).

The standard of appellate review relating to jury instructions is abuse of discretion (a standard of review previously discussed in prior postings). See Barton Protective Services, Inc. v. Faber, 745 So.2d 968, 974 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999). As best articulated by the Fourth District Court of Appeal:

A trial court is accorded broad discretion in formulating appropriate jury instructions and its decision should not be reversed unless the error complained of resulted in a miscarriage of justice or the instruction was reasonably calculated to confuse or mislead the jury. A decision to give or withhold a jury instruction is to be reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard of review. The party defending the instructions on appeal must show that the requested instructions accurately stated the applicable law, the facts supported giving the instruction, and that the instruction was necessary in order to allow the jury to properly resolve all the issues in the case. If the jury instructions, as a whole, fairly state the applicable law to the jury, the failure to give a particular instruction will not be an error.

See id (internal citations omitted).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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